Seattle Socialist City Councilmember and Socialist Alternative member Kshama Sawant is introducing a resolution for a vote by the Seattle City Council demanding the Biden administration stop blocking the Intellectual Property waivers for the COVID-19 vaccines. Below is the text of a mass email sent from her office.
Rapid dissemination of vaccinations is at the center of the strategy by public health professionals to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus. But globally, there are shockingly deep inequities in the access to the vaccine. This is putting countless lives at serious risk. Profit-driven big pharmaceutical companies, with the blessing of the Biden Administration, are blocking Intellectual Property (IP) waivers that would allow poor countries (formerly colonized countries) to produce the Covid-19 vaccine!
Big pharmaceuticals are making obscene profits, selling 87% of all vaccines to rich countries, with 1 out of every 4 receiving the vaccination to date. Meanwhile, in poor countries, only 1 out of every 500 people have received the Covid-19 vaccine! This is putting at risk the lives of billions. Furthermore, it could lead to a future reemergence of the Coronavirus, including new strains in rich countries.
The Biden Administration can help resolve the problem immediately by waiving Intellectual Property rights for vaccines. This call is supported by hundreds of organizations, including Doctors Without Borders and Human Rights Watch. The U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said, “A Covid-19 vaccine must be seen as a global public good, a people’s vaccine.”
That’s why on Monday, April 26, my office will bring forward a resolution for a vote by the Seattle City Council, to join the 400+ organizations calling for the Biden Administration to stop blocking the Intellectual Property waivers for the Covid-19 vaccine. People Over Profits!
Given billions of dollars in Big Pharma profits are at stake, we will need a strong grassroots movement that escalates the pressure on Biden and the Democratic establishment to respond to our just demand! Working people globally need to stand in solidarity with one another. We have to recognize that the laws under capitalism – including global trade laws – are set up for profit maximization for the elite in all countries, at the expense of all working people, especially in the global South.
Instead of waiving Intellectual Property, the Biden administration is attempting to exploit the inequities, recently agreeing to share surplus vaccines with Mexico, but only in exchange for Mexico cracking down on emigration to the United States.
Arguments that pharmaceutical companies deserve such massive profits as reward for innovation or that they are necessary to develop future vaccines and treatments have no basis in reality. These self-serving lies from the capitalist elite ignore, among other things, the overwhelming reliance of for-profit pharmaceutical corporations on publicly-funded technology development and on the hard work and dedication of researchers who take home modest salaries. For instance, Katalin Kariko, one the heroes in the development of mRNA technology for the vaccines, spent her career going from lab to lab, supported by government grants, never making more than $60,000 a year.
Of course, big pharmaceuticals profiting off human misery is nothing new. When medical technology considerably mitigated the risk of AIDS, it took almost a decade before countries in the global South like South Africa, could benefit from them. This was not because of any technical factors around the cost of production or distribution of the AIDS drugs, but because of patent monopolies. Similar examples abound, such as with the price of insulin, and the price of drugs treating cystic fibrosis and tuberculosis, illustrating the global significance of this issue. The opioid epidemic of recent years is yet another tragic example of pharmaceuticals profiting at the expense of ordinary people, and of this failed for-profit healthcare system as a whole.
It’s also no coincidence that even though nearly 80 percent of Democratic voters support Medicare for All, the Democratic establishment is completely beholden to the healthcare profiteers, and notoriously opposes this popular demand. By 2018, for example, the five members of Congress who comprise the Democratic National Campaign Committee’s top leadership positions had received nearly $3 million in contributions from the healthcare industry in their careers.
The Biden Administration’s policy of blocking the Covid-19 Intellectual Property waivers is an enormous gift to Big Pharma and the billionaire class in general, at the expense of ordinary people worldwide. Other powerful billionaires, like Bill Gates, have also relied heavily on Intellectual Property protections to amass their wealth. We will need a movement of ordinary people to pass a resolution in Seattle City Council and pressure the Biden Administration to allow the IP waivers on the Covid-19 vaccine, and put the health and lives of billions of ordinary people worldwide over the insatiable greed of the pharmaceutical companies and billionaires.
I look forward to being alongside you in struggle. Please contact my office if you or your labor or community organization would like to help us win this City Council resolution!